JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) - Mobs rampaged through poor suburbs of Johannesburg in a frenzy of anti-foreigner violence over the weekend, killing at least seven people, injuring dozens and forcing hundreds to seek refuge at police stations.
The attacks capped a week of mounting violence that started in the sprawling township of Alexandra. Angry residents there accused foreigners—many of them Zimbabweans who fled their own country's economic collapse—of taking scarce jobs and housing.
Police and government officials say organized criminals are also taking advantage of the anti-foreigner sentiment by using it as a cover for looting and shooting sprees. President Thabo Mbeki said Sunday that he would set up a panel of experts to investigate. African National Congress President Jacob Zuma, who is likely to succeed Mbeki next year, condemned the attacks.
"We cannot allow South Africa to be famous for xenophobia," he told a conference in Pretoria. The government is trying in vain to change South Africa's image from the crime capital of the world—it has a murder rate of more than 50 per day—before the 2010 soccer World Cup. Police said the worst violence erupted after midnight Saturday in a rundown inner city area called Cleveland that is home to many immigrants. Two of the victims were burned and three others beaten to death. More than 50 were taken to hospitals with gunshot and stab wounds.
"It's spreading like a wildfire and the police and the army can't control it," said Emmerson Zifo, a Zimbabwean teacher.
Johannesburg is South Africa's economic hub and home to hundreds of thousands of immigrants. Many of them are illegal, but many have also been here for more than a decade and possess South African identity documents.
There has been sporadic anti-foreigner violence for months, mainly aimed at stores run by Somalis accused of undercutting local storeowners, but nothing to compare with the current scale....